Fault lines existing in implementation of Criminal Justice System: Ashok Bhan

Srinagar, July 18 (KNS): Speaking as lead speaker at a webinar organised by BHU Law faculty today -Senior Advocate Ashok Bhan,said there are fault lines exiting in implementation of Criminal Justice System.
The implementation of the criminal justice system rests with three institutions, i.e. the police, the courts and the prisons. With a ratio of 144 police officers per 100,000 citizens, the Indian police is operating at 30% vacancy. The Indian police-to-population ratio is much lower than the United Nations’ recommended 222 per 100,000 citizens.

A statement issued to KNS reads, Courts in India at all levels (district, High Courts and Supreme Court) have a cumulative backlog of over 3.5 crore cases. The Economic Survey of 2018-19 projected that we would need more than 8,500 additional judges overall, including eight at the Supreme Court over the next five years to clear the backlog.

The average time for the completion of a trials in India is known to be among the longest in the world. A substantial number of those presently incarcerated are under trials.

It has been a common complaint that the Magisterial discretion to afford protection to the accused persons is rarely used. The Supreme Court has held time and again that the Magistrate is to take an independent view of the need for custody and was not to act as a post box for the police or prosecution. The Magistrate in the most empowered judicial officer in the criminal justice system and there is a need for fearless and assertive judicial magistracy. This is especially important given the conversation around custodial violence.

The grant of bail appears to have become more infrequent. Especially in case where a national investigation agency is seeking to detain a person in custody, often the accused person is expected to prima-facie evidence that the had not committed the accused offence. This reverses the burden on the accused person to respond to the allegations without being able to lead evidence. Generally speaking, bail is to be unconcerned with the likelihood of conviction.

Offences under special legislation (PCA, PMLA, SC/ST Atrocities Act, UAPA) and even offences against women often see extremely low conviction rates. This indicates that there are organizational and structural biases and inefficiencies that are to be rectified.

Despite the Supreme Court ruling time and again that conviction and sentencing should be heard separately, as a practitioner would realise, this is rarely followed. Consequently, the accused person missed a chance to bring to the court’s attention relevant considerations vis-à-vis the issue of sentence, independent of conviction.

Affordable and good quality Legal Aid still remains elusive despite the functioning of the legal services authority in states and districts.

After many years of judicial efforts, we have however seen a notable increase in the registration of FIRs, which is often an important step in initiating the police machinery. (KNS)

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